(+) Downsizing: the Paperless Office for Genealogists

WARNING: This article contains personal opinions.

The following is a Plus Edition article written by and copyright by Dick Eastman.

“I believe historians need every possible piece of paper and archived byte of digital data they can muster.” — Dan Gillmor, computing editor, San Jose Mercury News, 1 September 1996

Paper. I have been drowning in it for years.

Genealogists soon learn to collect every scrap of information possible. We collect copies of birth certificates, marriage records, death certificates, census entries, military pension applications, deeds, and much, much more. I don’t know about you, but I have been collecting these bits of information as paper, mostly photocopies, for years. Over the past thirty+ years, I have probably spent thousands of dollars in photocopying fees!

I now have a four-drawer filing cabinet behind me as I write these words and another four-drawer filing cabinet in the basement. I have book shelves that are groaning under the weight of (printed) books. Since I don’t have enough room for all my books, many of them are stored in boxes in the basement, and I seem to never retrieve any of those books from storage. They lie there, year after year, gathering dust and mildew, providing information to no one.

Searching for information in hundreds of books stored in the basement is so time consuming and so impractical that it never gets done.

In addition to the thousands of dollars spent on photocopying fees, I have spent still more on filing cabinets, manila file folders, bookshelves, and more. Then there’s the books. I hate to think what I have spent for books! Postage charges alone have been more than I care to think about.

Not only have I spent a lot of money, but I have also helped destroy the environment. I am sure I am personally responsible for the loss of numerous trees that were cut down to make the paper I used. In addition, I have consumed a lot of carbon and chemical products used in the production of toner for laser printers and for photocopy machines. Then there’s the ink used in inkjet printers.

So what do I do with these pieces of paper? I file them away and very rarely, if ever, look at them again. I spent a lot of money to acquire these pieces of paper, more money to file and organize them, and now I am spending still more money to store these pieces of paper.

Why?

I’ll be darned if I know!

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